With a special legislative session on public education and school choice looming, government school officials and administrators from across Texas traveled at taxpayer expense to attend their annual convention.
This year’s convention, held September 29–October 1 in Dallas, hit as Texas families are demanding reforms within the state’s public education system as well as funding for alternatives to their local school district.
At the same time, dozens of districts are pushing big bond packages on the November ballot.
The convention is hosted by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA).
TASB and TASA are taxpayer-funded lobby groups that represent the interests of elected school board trustees and school districts’ administrative staff.
District officials attend the convention to earn state-mandated continuing education credit, network with vendors, and set the group’s advocacy agenda.
Multiple workshops offered in the txEDCON23 program focused on community engagement, building a pro-public school culture, and promoting/marketing districts. Legislative advocacy was another popular topic.
School district officials also presented many of the workshops.
Administrators from scandal-plagued Prosper Independent School District gave a presentation called “Igniting a Culture of Advocacy.”
Prosper ISD’s Deputy Superintendent Jeff Crownover (an attorney who formerly served as the district’s general counsel) and Chief Communications Officer Rachel Trotter hosted the sparsely attended session.
Superintendent Holly Ferguson was also slated to participate, but Crownover said she had a conflict.
During last year’s convention, Ferguson skipped a Friday presentation saying she was sick but later that day showed up at a Prosper ISD football game. That convention was held just weeks after news of the district’s sex abuse scandal and cover-up became public.
Crownover and Trotter didn’t mention the scandal or the pending $10 million lawsuit filed by the abuse victims’ family, but they told the audience, “We get accused of having toxic positivity.”
The presenters said school trustees and administrators must be “proactive” advocates for the district and public education in general.
They recommended recruiting “key parents,” teachers, and students as “ambassadors” who are “willing to speak up” in favor of the district’s policies.
Trotter encouraged posting positive messages on social media but said arguing online is a no-no.
“Pay attention to who is saying what… but don’t be afraid to stand up or push back—just be smart about it,” read one of the presentation slides.
A past TASB presentation referred to community members with complaints as “CAVE” people—citizens against virtually everything—and similarly suggested that districts deploy “ambassadors” to deal with them.
Other Prosper ISD officials gave a presentation called “What Did They Say on Facebook?” that the program said would teach how the district combats “misinformation shared on social media.”
The Prosper ISD administrators didn’t mention the $2.8 billion bond they’re asking voters to approve, which includes a controversial $94 million football stadium—the most expensive in Texas history.
However, Crownover did say the district is trying to get more district employees to vote. He specifically referenced the “Culture of Voting” scheme that includes rewarding staff for voting, busing staff and students to polling places, and tracking which employees have and haven’t voted during bond elections.
Dozens of districts have big bonds on the November ballot.
At least six of the txEDCON23 sessions focused specifically on helping districts market costly bond packages that must be repaid with residents’ property taxes.
Also at the convention, TASB delegates voted overwhelmingly to add stronger opposition to school choice to their advocacy agenda.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called a third special legislative session to begin on October 9. Although he has not yet said what will be on the agenda, Abbott has promised to make school choice the subject of a special session this year.